Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Sandwich Test

I'm not sure how i came up with the Sandwich Test. I suspect the idea started with one of Yahtzee Croshaw's critical video game reviews, wherein he often compares disappointing characters to various inanimate objects. However, the Sandwich Test is now my primary metric for judging novels. It goes like this:

Would the story be meaningfully different if you replaced the main character with a sandwich?

In too many of the YA novels i've been reading lately, main characters might as well be sandwiches. They don't do anything, they just are. People do things for them, or about them, or around them. People move them from one location to another. These characters, and every one that leaps to mind is, alas, female, might as well be a sandwich for all it matters to the story.

And why a sandwich, you ask? Why not a pebble or a manequin or a sock? Well, two reasons. First, it's funnier, and keeps me sane when, for some reason, i decide to stick it out in a book that already failed the test. Second, there are actually a variety of sandwiches out there, and that allows other characters to interact with the sandwich in ways they wouldn't necessarily interact with a pebble. Cribbing from one of my own reviews, in which i compare a character to a pastrami sandwich:

But of course, people have strong feelings about her. Some are repulsed (perhaps they're vegetarians?), some want her but know to stay clear (on a diet, maybe?), whereas others want to possess her (pastrami connoisseurs, in this example).

It's been a while since i read the Hunger Games trilogy, so i can only use it for general examples, but here goes:

In book 1, Katniss is a person. She's struggling to keep her family alive, hunting and trading and dodging the cops. When Prim is selected, Katniss leaps forward to volunteer herself in her sister's place. In the games, she makes alliances, she attacks and defends, she even stands up to the Powers That Be at the conclusion of the games.

By book 3, she's a Sandwich, being handed around by various factions. She does what people tell her, and if no one has anything for her to do, she sits there. By the end, she's not even a good sandwich, she's a day-old soggy cold cut sandwich.

So, readers, next time you're frustrated with a character who doesn't DO anything, use your spare time deciding exactly what kind of sandwich they are. BLT? Club? Hummus wrap?

And authors, please, don't write any more sandwiches.